3 Common Mistakes You’re Making with Leading Lines

Aug 17, 2020

Leading lines can help turn your photo from a snapshot into a story. They impose a sense of order amidst the chaos of the natural world. So when they’re not used correctly, they may confuse your viewer and create a photograph without direction.

I’ve taught photography workshops around the world in my career as a travel and nature photographer. In that time, I’ve seen the same few mistakes come up over and over again when it comes to using leading lines.

The line doesn’t lead toward your focal point.

Let’s say you’ve identified a stream cutting through the forest as your leading line. In the distance there is a grove of trees. By lining up the stream so it leads toward this grove of trees, you’ll take your viewer into the grove, leading them somewhere unknown and more interesting.

If you take your photograph so that the stream leads away from the grove, now you’ll have competing elements in the image, and the eye doesn’t know where to travel through the photograph. It lacks cohesion and elegance. The photograph loses its potential for story.

There are too many lines in your photo.

Another common mistake gives the viewer too many roadmaps to follow at once. When there is more than one leading line in an image, the viewer can become confused. The eye wants to follow all the lines at once, missing the point of your image and traveling back and forth without a clear beginning or end.

It’s up to the photographer to isolate the singular story of a photograph and to present that to the viewer in a way that makes sense and is easy to follow. That’s what separates the eye of the photographer from the non-photographer.

Your line conflicts with the story you want to tell.

When you create a photograph as a piece of art, you use many elements to tell the story. The lighting, the composition, and the subject matter all work together to create interest for your viewer.

But sometimes the leading line can be misleading. If you’re trying to create the sense of something daunting, a clear leading line that takes the viewer out of the picture might be in contrast with the story you’re trying to tell. Make sure you’re keeping with the theme of your photo as you develop the composition.

When it comes to using leading lines, you have to know the rules really well before you can begin to bend them. That’s why I encourage you to watch my live workshop on August 19 at 8:30 AM Mountain Daylight Time, on Facebook live. Email for more information.

Want feedback on your photos, to see if you’re falling into these common mistakes? I’m offering a few private critiques. Get in touch with my office at 970-879-3718 to learn more.